If we asked experts what the first job of an effective leader is, the conflicting answers would be plentiful: Some would say it’s to set a vision and goals. To others it would be to motivate the group being led. A few would even venture to single out something more clever like surrounding oneself with smarter people who fill in the leader’s gaps as the most important.
To avoid joining this debate, I venture to let others battle over what the correct first job is while asserting that the most important subsequent job of a leader is to remove obstacles.
My experience as a manager, leading teams of all generations in both the corporate world and in the community has led me to the conclusion that no matter how diverse, or high performing and regardless of the group’s goals are, the best way to increase results is to remove the things that are hindering the group and its individuals from reaching it’s full potential.
These obstacles, big and small, insignificant or substantial take away from your team’s ability to do their job and fulfill established goals. It demotivates and lowers morale. It even generates frustration within the most talented people you work with, causing them to leave for greener (or at least more frictionless) pastures.
Removing obstacles may take the form of creating a new elaborate process to streamline a legacy way to doing things. It may be conducting your own analysis and confronting a boss or peer whose actions are slowing down your team or it may be something simpler.
The easiest way to remove obstacles for others is to ask them what is preventing them from doing their best. For a team of unionized call center reps I managed a few years ago, the number of obstacles was substantial. After seeing that this played itself out in endless complaints and low morale, I tackled this issue through periodic “venting sessions” where I would collect lists of obstacles, seeking to understand the obstacles discussed as opposed to refuting them. I then worked hard to remove these obstacles, some of which I could and others that I couldn’t.
The results were amazing. Not only did the length and intensity of these “venting sessions” decrease, but morale and results improve dramatically.
Results skyrocketed not because of some analytical tool or special initiative; it occurred because of the effective use of an obstacle removing mindset.